A couple of days ago, I posted a couple of paragraphs from the O’Reilley book I am reading – Machine Learning for Email on my Facebook page.
What is a hacker? Far from the stylized depictions of nefarious teenagers or Gibsonian cyber-punks portrayed in pop culture, we believe a hacker is someone who likes to solve problems and experiment with new technologies. If you’ve ever sat down with the latest O’Reilly book on a new computer language and knuckled out code until you were well past “Hello, World,” then you’re a hacker. Or, if you’ve dismantled a new gadget until you understood the entire machinery’s architecture, then we probably mean you, too. These pursuits are often undertaken for no other reason than to have gone through the process and gained some knowledge about the how and the why of an unknown technology.
Along with an innate curiosity for how things work and a desire to build, a computer hacker (as opposed to a car hacker, life hacker, food hacker, etc.) has experience with software design and development. This is someone who has written programs before, likely in many different languages. To a hacker, UNIX is not a four-letter word, and command-line navigation and bash operations may come as naturally as working with windowing operating systems. Using regular expressions and tools such as
grepare a hacker’s first line of defense when dealing with text. In the chapters of this book, we will assume a relatively high level of this sort of knowledge.
The word “hacker” has an unfairly negative connotation from being portrayed in the media as people who break into computers. In reality, hacking just means building something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done. Like most things, it can be used for good or bad, but the vast majority of hackers I’ve met tend to be idealistic people who want to have a positive impact on the world.
The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration. Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it — often in the face of people who say it’s impossible or are content with the status quo.
Hackers try to build the best services over the long term by quickly releasing and learning from smaller iterations rather than trying to get everything right all at once. To support this, we have built a testing framework that at any given time can try out thousands of versions of Facebook. We have the words “Done is better than perfect” painted on our walls to remind ourselves to always keep shipping.
Hacking is also an inherently hands-on and active discipline. Instead of debating for days whether a new idea is possible or what the best way to build something is, hackers would rather just prototype something and see what works. There’s a hacker mantra that you’ll hear a lot around Facebook offices: “Code wins arguments.”
Hacker culture is also extremely open and meritocratic. Hackers believe that the best idea and implementation should always win — not the person who is best at lobbying for an idea or the person who manages the most people.
Do you know of similar quotes? Send me comments. Meanwhile, whenever I come across a quote on Hackers and their ways, I will try to update this post.